On a chilly evening in October, shoemaker-turned-artist Anastasia Radevich welcomed me into her cozy, inviting shoemaking studio nestled in Montreal’s Plateau.
At first, to my unenlightened eye, the studio is indistinguishable from the many other apartments nearby. As Anastasia unpacks the details of her craft, she reveals that one of the most important elements of her work is stripping back unnecessary equipment to use only essential tools. After seeing examples of the exquisitely detailed shoes she has created in the simple studio, I come to understand the genius of her work. Over fresh figs from Jean Talon and steaming jasmine tea, we talked about the craft of shoemaking and learning to give yourself permission to be an artist.
Tell me a bit about the path that led you here today.
I’m a 3rd generation shoemaker, before fully immersing myself in my craft, I spent five years studying marketing and linguistics. My first job was at Aldo in Montreal, and after two years there I decided to go back to my roots. I went to a traditional shoemaking school in London and got back to the craftsmanship. After that I worked for Alexander McQueen and Nicholas Kirkwood for about 3 years before coming back to Montreal and building this studio. This space is really small; it used to be a garage. All I need is a sewing machine, some tools and that’s it. You don’t need a big factory. It’s in this studio that I started to really push my imagination and creativity.
You come from a generation of shoemakers and describe your “return” to shoemaking, Why was it important to return to your roots?
It was a very distinct call of nature. Even while I was studying linguistics I was still making shoes for the sake of expressing my creativity. I had my family’s “rogue” informal schooling that was very hands on but had no theory. So, I went to London to understand the whole industry and to meet people working in it. Deciding to immerse myself fully in shoemaking was like a journey to explore myself and ask, “What am I capable of doing?”
How has working with monolithic Fashion Houses like Alexander McQueen and Nicholas Kirkwood influenced your art?
It proved to me that fairytale things can happen that shouldn’t happen in theory. Alexander McQueen’s motto is “Anything is possible”. The tasks I was given were crazy but I made them happen. The chance to work with crazy-minded creatives was also influential – there were so many interesting people who I still keep in touch with. Everyone made that experience rich with their character and creativity. I went to the houses I was most curious about. I just walked in with a suitcase of my prototypes and boldly asked for Lee [Alexander McQueen]. He saw the samples and brought me in right away.
Wait, you just walked into Alexander McQueen’s flagship store in London?
Yes, that’s my style. The day before I walked into McQueen, I had actually been in Spain for an interview with Zara to work as a designer, showing them the same suitcase of samples that I brought to McQueen. When the Zara interviewer saw my work he told me right there, “What are you doing? You could go wherever you want with this. You want to work with Zara? Why?” He was a senior designer and it was enough to convince me to follow the curiosity I had that wasn’t centered around commercial shoemaking. I approached Nicholas Kirkwood the same way. The experience with him was more 1-on-1 because the company was just growing, there were no departments so you had to jump in and do whatever needed to be done.
Was there a moment where you felt you “made it” as an artist?
Funnily enough, I only realized I was an artist two years ago through a dream. Before this dream, I always saw myself bordering fashion and art. But through the dream I realized it and woke up feeling comfortable describing myself this way. To be an artist is to express your unique intrinsic individuality and it can be done through so many mediums from music to puzzles.
How did you reject the corporate monotony of “production” to return to producing for creativity?
It wasn’t slow process, it was like a switch flipped. You have to find your inspiration to do it and divert energy there – If 50% of your day is commercial and repetitive and based on good sales, you have to find energy to shake it up. After a day of producing commercial shoes I’d ask myself, “Okay, what am I doing for fun? What is the message that wants to come through shoes now?”
In your craft, you have to always be curious about what’s next. People who are investigative and who try to get to the root of their own curiosity always have a steady flow of stimuli to work with. Art is analyzing and concentrating experiences to then realize that you have something to say to the world. For example, all the artifacts [shoe collections] I’ve created so far were based on my previous experiences. I’ve gathered all these experiences and responses to them throughout the years of my life and then along the way a switch flips and I think, “Okay! I have a story to tell!”
How do you define “success”?
I think success is when you can live independently (within reason) while pursuing your dream. I say reasonably because it’s important that your dream is not harming another’s freedom, and you have to be able to afford the lifestyle that is within your framework of freedom.
What advice do you have for other artists trying to break away from corporate structure to support themselves with their art?
Believe in yourself. If you have an idea, it’s worth trying to test or make it. When you set out to realize your dream you have to take into consideration all those around you. Keep your dreams close: take steps every day to nourish them and never give up.
Anastasia teaches classes for those interested in learning how to make shoes in a concise, 1-on-1 program. Students will have all the knowledge they need to start making their own shoes within 4 to 5 classes and it’s a great way to get more involved with Project Terranaut: a collective of craftsmen making wearable shoes for sale in Montreal that was started by Anastasia and her husband. You can sign up for one of her courses here. If you’re in Montreal, catch her art at the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts (MMFA) “New Takes on an Old Craft: Contemporary Quebec Leatherwork” on display until March 2018.